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Our Creator desires the submission of our heart, not simply outward compliance. What gives Him this right? Everything about our earthly existence suggests that to survive we must hold on, cling to, and strive towards something. If we simply ‘gave up,’ we wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning, eat, or build any sort of meaningful life. So what’s with this incessant invitation to do just that?
When we are confronted with various forms of authority, we must choose. Usually we think of this in terms of obedience and disobedience. Yet, when we peel back the layers, what we’re really faced with is something much deeper and more difficult than a simple outward act. Do we trust this authority? Can we trust it? We begin to mitigate ways, based on our levels of trust, to conform without losing a sense of control. If we have little trust in the character of the authority, whether parent, teacher or president, we’ll navigate our obedience in such a way to preserve our self-will, our innate sense of self-determination.
Like soldiers captured by enemy in a time of war, we may lay down our weapons but we maintain our loyalties if the captor is evil. However, if our captor is more trustworthy and good, we will find that in actuality our surrender is a place of liberation. Through surrender inwardly, we are freed from the grips of our true bondage.
To rely on the will for Christian obedience is to reinforce our natural willful self-determination.
Surrender involves much more than an outward willful action. It’s about letting go, ceasing from continuous self-preservation as we learn to rest into something better – the essence of a loving relationship!
We’ve been raising 8 children; four now young adults. It’s amazing how easy it is to manipulate younger toddlers towards outward obedience. So many tools at our disposal from fear of punishment, promise of rewards and other enticements. We’ve practiced them al. Yet as they grow in self-autonomy, the situation begins to change. The child becomes aware of their own individual wants, their preferences, their fears. What worked before to secure outward obedience stops working. Something deeper, more motivational and beautiful must take place – a relationship of trust.
Like our children entering the adolescence phase, a connection of heart must take place that goes beyond the mere requests for outward conformity. A relationship is based on a mutual acknowledgement of the other person. On the part of the child, a surrendered trust towards the dependability of one in authority is needed. This is an inward surrender, the antithesis of clinging, a letting go. One cannot, nor should not, surrender in heart to those proven untrustworthy for such a daring action.
We are thankful for the grace God has allowed us to experience personally as parents, which has helped us navigate our emerging friendships with our young adults. We have navigated from the earlier stages of outward conformity towards a deeper mutual respect. It is not easy for either parent or child! It has required an increasing trust, and a proving of our trustworthiness and sacrificial love along the way. I know my relationship with my adult children will grow deeper as I experience, and become shaped by, God’s love even more. That excites me. No matter where we are in our relationship with our children, if we go back to experiencing God’s love personally, things have the best opportunity to improve.
As parents, we are imperfect reflections of the Father heart of God. The Father, however, wants us to trust Him – enough to let go, enough to truly surrender. Our obedience will then take the form of a reflective gratitude, more than a proving or striving. If God simply wanted outward obedience, like that which we contrive among our own kids, do you not think He could have accomplished that? We can tend to think God parents us like we do our little kids. Jesus reveals something much more daring, deep, and destructive to our self wills. Like Peter, asking to step out of the boat, we find out that this invitation is much more than simply forcing our foot onto the water. When we begin our relationship with Jesus, we’re faced with the sheer abandonment into the trustworthiness of the Person – lose sight of this and we’re thrashing about in the waves of self will and religion.
God wants our heart, not just our will.
Surrender is existential; it’s beyond simple frontal cortex, logical thinking. So much of our Western process of thought, our books, our preaching, focuses on a Christ following of striving mentally. The truth is, we can have obedience without surrender. We can’t, however, have true surrender without an embracing of His will in obedience.
Our natural instincts are to survive; we naturally protest surrender. We know what surrender is. We even long for it – that place of finally surrendering to a trustworthy authority. For some of us, this is terrifying. We’ve had harmful experiences after trusting the wrong people, and rightly walk cautiously in relationships because of this. Yet, our Creator comes to us with the only relationship He’s interested in – one of love, because He is love and what our hearts truly long for. He’s just and loving to require surrender, as only He satisfies. Love demands implicit trust and a letting go, a “not my will, but yours be done,” from the inside out kind of faith. God knows to what or to whom we are ultimately clinging. He moves towards us in Jesus, inviting surrender, and challenging us in the tiring misery of our self will.
Apart from such surrender, we remain self-preoccupied as our willful attempts to stay in control cut us off from life itself.
Finally, St. Ignatius of Loyola states ,“Sin is unwillingness to trust that what God wants is our deepest happiness.” Benner says that until we are convinced of this absolutely, we will do everything we can to keep our hands on the controls of our lives (at least to some degree), because we think we know better than God what we need for our fulfillment.
Do I implicitly trust God enough to surrender my past, present, and future? Do I embrace Jesus as the ultimate expression of sacrificial, trustworthy love? Do I dare receive His uncompromising love and relinquish control of my life, taking up His will as my own?
Take a moment to consider loving, mutual surrender within the very nature of God!
Self-surrender is at the very heart of God and is at the very heart of all his attitudes and actions. When He asks us to surrender ourselves He is asking us to fulfill the deepest thing in Himself and the deepest thing in us. E. Stanley Jones
The Father surrenders to the Son. The Spirit is continually looking to bring honor, not to himself, but to the Father and Son. Is there even such a thing as love outside of a surrendered will toward the flourishing of the other? As love, the three Persons of the Godhead are in continual open, mutual submission to each other. We can trust God in personal surrender because He Himself practices this within Himself. Jesus knew that in surrendering His own life, humanity would become the beneficiaries of the Father’s love and compelled through the Gospel to enter it.
God’s amazing love displayed in Christ and on Calvary is “no arbitrary expression of the nature of God; this is what the life of the Trinity is, translated to the world.” – Seamands
Consider the words of the Apostle Paul, and think upon His love for you!
What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?…in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[b] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?…Romans 8:31-39 (NIV)
I’m taking time today to consider not just the areas of my life that I’m wrestling into surrender, but the very nature of my holistic surrender. A surrender that doesn’t strive, but releases and lets go – into the loving arms of my Savior.